This is my contribution to the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon hosted by Ferdy on Films and The Self-Styled Siren. Please visit their sites for more great posts, and please consider donating to an extremely worthwhile cause by clicking here.
Even in 2011, Force of Evil is a relevant cautionary tale against the ambiguities of Capitalism and how certain individuals can manipulate that system for personal gain at the expense of others – in particular how the banking system in America can be compromised. It's not just that the film is an expertly crafted noir that plumbs the depths of moral ambiguity like all good noir pictures do; no, writer/director Abraham Polonsky was interested in making a film that was much more socially conscience than that. As we all know, film-noir was always a subgenre that allowed the freedom for certain iconoclasts to voice their displeasure with minor issues (the Hollywood studio system) or bigger issues (Capitalism and government). The best film-noir employs a voiceover to usher us through the murky, moral dilemmas our protagonist must face; however, the best noir employ striking visuals, too, to make us feel what the protagonist is feeling: like the world is crashing down on them. Perhaps no moment in Force of Evil better articulates this than the film's final moments where both narration and amazing visuals put us in the shoes of our protagonist Joe (John Garfield) whose world is, quite literally, spiraling down to the very nadir of his existence as he looks for his missing brother, Leo (Thomas Gomez), who has been taken by the very criminals Joe has been helping.
It is here that Polonsky's film doesn't quite give itself over to the nihilistic and pessimistic tendencies of noir (I dare say a little idealism and optimism creep in at the end) as Joe finds the horrifying results of his actions: his brother's dead body washed up on the rocks. This doesn't lead him – as most noirs would – to take the ill-gained money and run off with the girl; no, instead he leaves with girl to go turn himself into the police. It's an idealistic ending to an otherwise cynical movie; an ending that suggests we think about one more time in terms of Biblical allegory as Joe tries to atone for his sins by turning himself in.